Question 1: I am fascinated by your way of understanding the Gospel of St. John we find in your Course “St. John’s Gospel and Spiritual Life”. Did I understand correctly that in it the Passion coincides with the Resurrection? Could you please help me meditate this aspect? Do you have any further readings to suggest? It’s quite extraordinary because we are used to think that the Resurrection follows the Passion which requires a leap of faith.
Answer: First, let me clarify: I am not sure I ever said that in the Gospel of St. John the Passion coincides with the Resurrection. Let me explain what I meant:
1- The Gospels were all written after the Resurrection and under its light and its grace. They are also the result of years of teaching and deepening by the Holy Spirit of all that relates to Jesus.
In the case of St. John, however, we should consider the greater richness of his writings. We need to take into account the experience of the Transfiguration during Jesus’ time, his closeness to Jesus during his Passion, death, burial and his closeness to Mary for some years thereafter. Furthermore, in his case we should remember his greater maturity in comparison with his fellow evangelists, for he probably wrote his Gospel long after they did in the year 96 after his return from exile. Then too we have to include his sublime martyrdom, when he is brought back to life and sent into exile, only to receive very powerful visions which constitute the book of Revelation or Apocalypse. All these elements and many others together – yes, one has to consider that there are many transformative graces received by St. John – definitely contribute to give John an incredible superiority to the other evangelists, as well as the capacity to contemplate and better interpret the events of Jesus’ life which he was privileged to witness.
Even more than this we have to consider the process of “remembering” that occurred in the minds and hearts of all the Apostles, and more specifically in those of the Gospel writers. In his Gospel John quotes Jesus as saying: “the Holy Spirit will remind you” (John 14,26). But when John writes his Gospel, this process of remembering occurs under all the powerful lights and graces mentioned above. “Remembering” here is like revisiting, reliving the events, making them yours, and therefore entering more deeply into their meaning. Despite this, however, the sequence of the events will never change, namely, Jesus went through his Passion, death, stayed buried till the early hours of Sunday, then He rose from the dead. In this sense it is impossible to say that the Resurrection, which occurs on Sunday, coincided with the Crucifixion which occurred on Friday.
The perception of what happened on Friday (Passion, Crucifixion and Death) not only acquired greater depth in St. John, because of the graces mentioned above, but also essentially because of the Graces received from the Resurrection onwards. In this light then, the Resurrection is paradoxically necessary to help us understand the Crucified. It is as if Jesus is saying to us: “Do you understand what I have done for you on the Cross?” (John 13:12) In fact, one finds a great deal of depth when considering these two events side by side.
John, after all the graces mentioned above is now capable of entering more deeply into the love of God communicated to us during the Passion; he is capable of “seeing” an infinity of new things invisible to the naked eye. This explains his description of the Lord’s Passion as being a victory, wherein Jesus unleashes his divine power as we see the temple soldiers fall to the ground (John 18:6), as well as the firm decision Jesus makes to undergo his Passion. This also explains why the opening of Jesus’ side becomes the focal point for John: “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and blood and water came out immediately. And the one having seen has borne witness, and his testimony is true. And He knows that he is speaking truth, so that you also might believe. For these things took place so that the Scripture might be fulfilled: […] “They will look on the One they have pierced.”” (John 19:37). But what does he see in it? Nothing less than Heaven opened up again (remember the Promise in John 1:51: “you will see heaven opened…”), and now fully accessible to us. While the other gospels merely mention the veil of the Temple being torn apart, John goes further to plumb the depths of meaning of what lay hidden in this event.
2- With this very important background in mind, that is, considering all the graces received by St. John, what I said was that his vision of the Passion must be weighed up more between the visible sufferings of Jesus and his invisible love, which John alludes to as “glory”. Therefore, the Passion, chronologically speaking, is not first a defeat then a victory (as might be said regarding the other Gospels or in the Roman Latin Liturgy) but the Passion, in itself, becomes already a victory, an action, and a salvation that is accomplished in all reality. So, at one and the same time the Passion seems an apparent defeat and the greatest victory. This is why in the Byzantine Rite (be it Catholic or Orthodox) the “Alleluia” – a song of praise and joy – is sung when the Lord dies, because what occurred on the Cross and His holy death are seen already as a victory over evil – something not experienced in the same way in the actual Roman Latin Liturgy. It is worthy of note that the exchange undertaken by Jesus when He took upon himself our sins, our darkness and gave us his light, his love, his life in return, has always been contemplated by the Fathers of the Church as it was first contemplated in the Gospel of St. John and in St. Paul’s teaching.
Does this mean that the resurrection occurred during the Passion? Of course not. Becoming able to contemplate Jesus on the Cross and the Holy Spirit acting in Him and through Him in each one of us; being able to contemplate them in Action, in deep mystical action as they realise our Salvation and accomplish the exchange, does not yet mean that we have reached the moment of the Resurrection. The only difference it makes is that we see the Passion itself as more dense, full of deeper dimensions, where John and St. Paul, can contemplate the Love of God on the Cross. In a way, without at all neglecting the Resurrection, one can spiritually dwell in the “space” in front of the Cross as one would do in front of a Unique Sun… a powerful Transformer… the Generator of Light and Salvation. In a way, we can say that we find everything in it: the extreme suffering of humanity embraced and the maximum of Glory communicated. The Cross never neglects or cancels out the Resurrection; it never makes life heavier as it would without a Resurrection. No. It is because of the Resurrection that we can say that we have access to the Mystery of the Cross in this concentrated and deep way. We can now dwell in front of it and it is not a doleful and pain-based attitude on our part (dolorism); on the contrary, it is a seeking of God’s Glory and an entry into it at greater depth. The Cross lifts us, and it has an amazing power to lift us from our darkness to God’s light and sweetness! Who can claim to know anything about God if he or she has not experienced the Power of the Cross? It lifts us towards God and invites us to delve more profoundly within Jesus.
John’s invitation is to contemplate with him what Jesus realises on the Cross, which is rarely mentioned in Theology, although some mystics do mention it, and not only mention it but they live it first. Contemplating the Cross is about first becoming aware that during the six hours of the Lord on the Cross He is not static. His body is fixed to the Cross, but mystically, the Holy Spirit is making of Him the true Lamb, as He takes Jesus and “travels” from His Home-Light to our Land of Darkness. Since Adam’s Fall, we have been separated from God, which means that we were not in His Light and Love. The Incarnation is only one step in the journey that God makes to draw himself closer to us. The first step. But there are others. In fact, in order to understand how God sees us and acts to draw closer to us, we need to remember that to Him when He comes to visit us, we are not just human beings, we are prisoners in an underworld, in a land of darkness and death. Thus, during His Passion, the Lord continues his journey of descent or incarnation in order to reach out and enter mystically into our world of darkness, until He reaches us, carries us, like the good Shepherd and decides to return us to the light, the Light of His Divinity. All this occurs mysteriously and mystically during the six Hours of the Crucifixion, but one can extend the hours, and count from his Prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, from the moment when He accepts to drink the Cup of our very being.
This is the exact moment in history where this verse is fully realised: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)
The Lord also calls the Passion a “Baptism”. “To be Baptised” means “to be immersed”. He said, “I have a baptism with which to be baptised, and how I am distressed until it should be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50) He is also shown by John the Baptist as the one who Baptises in the Holy Spirit and Fire: “He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16). So being Baptised and Baptising us are two expressions that try to approach the mystical process of Redemption where, by the action of the Holy Spirit, the Lord draws closer to us and unites himself to us, carries us and returns us to His Light and Love. His Being is immersed in us, we are immersed in Him. One can see this in the following diagram (see full article):
We are invited then to enter deeper into the mystery of what occurs during the six hours of Crucifixion culminating at the moment of Jesus’ Holy Death, where He completes the giving of his Life to us, communicating his life to us.
The eyes of St. John, his contemplation, is offered to us to allow us to enter more deeply into the invisible action occurring during the Crucifixion. What do we also find? When He brings us back to His Light, we understand that by doing this He is inaugurating a new Way to reach God from where we were: “a new and living way, which He dedicated for us through the veil that is His flesh” (Heb. 10:20). The way has been opened up and we are able to cross it, from where we are to God’s Glory, or Eternal Light. And this Way is inaugurated during the Crucifixion and Jesus himself is this Way.
Does this mean that we do not need the Resurrection? Of course not.
Let us remember that this deeper perception of what the Passion is in itself, its powerful light, expressed as a manifestation of the Lord’s Glory (“Isaiah saw his glory” (John 12)) very probably encouraged St. John to understand the reason Jesus said after the Transfiguration: “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:9). In fact, it is only through the final victory of the Resurrection and having received and lived under the grace of the Resurrection, that John was able to better envisage the Passion. As you can see, he still needed the Resurrection before being permitted to perceive and to endlessly delve into the infinite depths of the mystery of the Passion. It is with the Light of the Passion-Death-Resurrection that St. John was able to see the relationship between the Light of the Resurrection and the Light of the Transfiguration. This is why St. Luke says clearly that the object of the conversation between Moses, Elijah and the Lord during the transfiguration was his Exodus, that is, his Pascal passage or Passover. Through the Transfiguration we are slowly permitted to perceive the closeness between it and the Passion-Death-Resurrection. We have a better understanding, then, as to why John, despite being a witness of both does not seem to mention the Transfiguration in his Gospel. In fact, he does but he centres everything around the Cross, as THE manifestation par excellence of God’s Glory.
If one looks at the movement of the Prologue one finds that the entire Gospel of St. John aims to offer us this same experience as follows: “The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14), this experience to be understood not as an allusion to the Incarnation (It has already been mentioned in the previous verses: “He came to the own, and the own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11)), but as an allusion to the mystical experience of Jesus coming back to us in our heart, invisibly, (John 14:21.23) offering us the possibility to contemplate the glory of God on the Cross. “The Word became flesh”, means then He came into us with the Father and the Holy Spirit as He promised (John 14:21.23): He made of us his dwelling place (John 15: “I dwell in you”), and therefore, if we lift up our eyes to contemplate the Crucified Lord, we can see his side opened up and see heaven opened up and thus see his Glory coming out of his wound.
Question 2: How can we experience the Resurrection at the same moment that our bodies are being physically and/or mentally tortured in “our Passion”?
Answer: The Pascal spiritual movement of our life is fundamental: experiencing the Lord’s Death and Resurrection (we are baptised in them) occurs when, first, we experience something that dies in us (from the Old Man) when met with the power of the Crucified Lord (offering it to Him), then, is transformed into a new power feeding the New Man in us. Simply expressed: if we entrust to the crucified Lord our sufferings, He transforms them. The Cross, in sum, is a true transformer, that takes all our darkness, bitterness, sin, death and gives us back light, sweetness, grace and Life.
See also these important articles and videos:
Pope Benedict XVI:
Jesus Christ – the incarnate love of God
Though up to now we have been speaking mainly of the Old Testament, nevertheless the profound compenetration of the two Testaments as the one Scripture of the Christian faith has already become evident. The real novelty of the New Testament lies not so much in new ideas as in the figure of Christ himself, who gives flesh and blood to those concepts—an unprecedented realism. In the Old Testament, the novelty of the Bible did not consist merely in abstract notions but in God’s unpredictable and in some sense unprecedented activity. This divine activity now takes on dramatic form when, in Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in search of the “stray sheep”, a suffering and lost humanity. When Jesus speaks in his parables of the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, of the woman who looks for the lost coin, of the father who goes to meet and embrace his prodigal son, these are no mere words: they constitute an explanation of his very being and activity. His death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form. By contemplating the pierced side of Christ (cf. 19:37), we can understand the starting-point of this Encyclical Letter: “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). It is there that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move.” (Pope Benedict XVI Encyclical Letter: “God is Love” n.12)